10 Censored and Banned Rock Songs
Controversy = Popularity
It’s safe to assume they were just a tad bit sensitive back in the day. But to be fair, there were all sorts of reasons why these songs were either banned or the artist was forced to record an alternative version. Some of them are understandable given that the tracks touched sensitive topics or contained profanity but for others, it was nothing more than due to product placement.
So let’s check out some of these rock ‘n roll songs which became more controversial than they needed to be.
10. “Wake Up Little Susie” – The Everly Brothers
It was The Everly Brothers’ first number 1 hit but it was banned in Boston due to its suggestive lyrics. The song is about a high school boy’s girlfriend, Susie, and it’s from his own point of view. It tells the story of the two of them going out on a date and eventually falling asleep while watching a lame movie. Her curfew was set at 10 PM but they woke up way past that at 4 AM. Thus they were thinking how their parents and friends would react.
“Coming out of their mouths, it was pure honey. Anything they put their voices on seemed to blend like custard. I think they could sing the telephone book to me. The blend was unbelievable.” – writer Felice Bryant
We still think it all sounds innocent enough but keep in mind that back then, it was already controversial if a girl stayed out late even more so if she’s with her boyfriend all night.
9. “You Don’t Know How it Feels” – Tom Petty
It’s a fun and catchy tune and we bet it would still be a hit if it was released yesterday. This just never gets old and it makes you want to party and share a cold one with Tom Petty – the dude’s cool like that. Anyway, you probably figured out why this was censored.
It was all thanks to the verse “Let’s roll another joint.” The version played by MTV and radio stations took out the word “roll” (Tom also recorded one that replaced it with “hit”) and made “joint” almost indecipherable. Of course, today, you can enjoy listening to the original recording.
“I don’t want to be seen as some advocate for dope. It just seemed like something the character in that song would say.” – Tom Petty
Nevertheless, the song ended up taking the top spot in the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and even won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video back in 1995.
8. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” – The Beatles
The Fab Four has had plenty of controversial tracks but this one tops them all. Everyone has their own interpretation and well, it’s often the subject of debate. Most would agree it talks about LSD (the title alone is like a crafty and subtle way of referencing the acronym of the hallucinogenic) because let’s be honest here, The Beatles aren’t new to having drug-related themes in their tracks.
BBC banned it from the radio along with “A Day in the Life.”
“I had no idea it spelt LSD. This is the truth: my son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange-looking woman flying around. I said, ‘What is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds,’ and I thought, ‘That’s beautiful.’ I immediately wrote a song about it.” – John Lennon
Okay, John, whatever you say. Years later, Paul McCartney also supported that it’s not a reference to LSD.
7. “Lola” – The Kinks
Even with this controversial song, The Kinks were still criminally overlooked. It was Ray Davies who wrote about the romantic involvement of a young man with a trans woman. The line “walked like a woman and talked like a man” says it all. Davies claimed this was inspired by an actual event.
“It was a real experience in a club. I was asked to dance by somebody who was a fabulous looking woman. I said “no thank you”. And she went in a cab with my manager straight afterwards. It’s based on a personal experience. But not every word.” – Ray Davies
It was banned in Australia citing that it tackled a “controversial subject matter.” But surprisingly, BBC had another reason – because of the product placement. They were bothered with “Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola.” They later recorded another version and changed it to “Cherry Cola.”
6. “This Note’s For You” – Neil Young
Neil Young’s stand against commercialism didn’t sit well with MTV. It’s ballsy, let’s give him that. Both the song and video criticized and mocked corporate rock. But it didn’t just make fun of big companies like Budweiser, Coke and Pepsi but also pop artists like Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
Because of the legal threats from Jackson’s attorneys, MTV banned the song.
“MTV, you spineless twerps.
You refuse to play “This Note’s For You” because you’re afraid to offend your sponsors.
What does the “M” in MTV stand for: music or money?
Long live rock and roll.” – Neil Young’s note to MTV dated July 6, 1988
MuchMusic, a Canadian TV channel, ran it and it became a huge hit. MTV eventually lifted the ban and put the video on heavy rotation. It even received a Grammy Award nomination for “Best Concept Video” and the MTV Video Music Award for Best Video of the Year in 1989.
5. “My Generation” – The Who
A classic rock anthem, for sure, but it’s not without a bit of a controversy – something that has become typical of The Who. Would you believe that BBC banned “My Generation” because of Roger Daltrey’s stutter?
This here is proof that it doesn’t matter how iconic your song is, someone will find something wrong with it. So, what’s up with it? These are their reasons. First, it MAY offend people who have problems with stuttering. Second, the “f-f-f-fade away” may sound like an F-word.
“I have got a stutter. I control it much better now but not in those days. When we were in the studio doing ‘My Generation’, Kit Lambert came up to me and said ‘STUTTER!’ I said ‘What?’ He said ‘Stutter the words – it makes it sound like you’re pilled’ And I said, ‘Oh… like I am!’ And that’s how it happened. It was always in there, it was always suggested with the ‘f-f-fade’ but the rest of it was improvised.” – Roger Daltrey
After the song became a huge hit, BBC gave in and allowed airplay.
4. “Money for Nothing” – Dire Straits
Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” sparked controversy from the moment it was released because of its lyrics. It was the band’s most commercially successful single but it got banned because many deemed that the message is homophobic due to the use of the slur “fa***t.” The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) banned it from being played by radio stations.
The boys knew it was going to cause outrage and may be offensive to some which is why they recorded several alternate versions which would make the track suitable for airplay.
“I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London – he actually said it was below the belt. Apart from the fact that there are stupid gay people as well as stupid other people, it suggests that maybe you can’t let it have so many meanings – you have to be direct.” – Mark Knopfler
One version replaced the controversial word with “mother” while there was another which basically removed the whole verse. The CBSC reversed its decision after much bad press.
3. “God Save The Queen” – The Sex Pistols
Isn’t it ironic that “God Save The Queen” peaked at number 2 on the BBC’s UK Singles Chart but they, along with the Independent Broadcasting Authority, banned the song from being played? Thus, there were listeners who accused BBC of fixing the charts to prevent The Sex Pistols from landing on the top spot.
“I would like to very strongly distance myself from the recent stories and campaign to push ‘God Save The Queen’ for the number one spot. This campaign totally undermines what The Sex Pistols stood for…. This is not my campaign. I am pleased that the Sex Pistols recordings are being put out there for a new generation, however, I wish for no part in the circus that is being built up around it.” – John Lydon on the song’s re-release back in 2012
It’s not even remotely surprising given that they did criticize the British government and the band took the title from UK’s national anthem. So you know, it was definitely going to get quite a reaction.
2. “Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison
The original title for Van Morrison’s signature song is “Brown Skinned Girl” but he later changed it to “Brown Eyed Girl”. Some say the reason was to make it more radio-friendly. However, it was still banned from radio stations because of the suggestive and racy lyrics “making love in the green grass.” An edited and overdubbed version replaced that verse with “laughin’ and a-runnin’, hey hey.”
“After we’d recorded it, I looked at the tape box and didn’t even notice that I’d changed the title. I looked at the box where I’d lain it down with my guitar and it said ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ on the tape box. It’s just one of those things that happen.” – Van Morrison on changing the title
Until today, it still receives heavy airplay from several classic rock stations. It has also been featured in films and covered by numerous artists like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Jimmy Buffett.
1. “Louie Louie” – The Kingsmen
The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” is often considered as two things – a rock rebel anthem and one of the dirtiest songs from the ‘60s. It was banned from the airwaves because of the obscene lyrics.
One concerned father of a teenage girl even made a written complaint which eventually prompted a 31-month extensive investigation by the FBI which ended with them concluding that they were “unable to interpret any of the wording in the record.”
“The words to ‘Louie Louie’ are almost impossible to understand, and are rumored to be obscene. No question that this added significantly to the sales of the single. There was probably a leak somewhere that the lyrics were obscene; otherwise no one would have realized it. This was the most ingenious marketing scheme ever.” – author Dwight Rounds
Lynn Easton also admitted to cursing “F***” during their recording session when he dropped his drumstick. You have to hand it to them – the rumors and speculations made it more popular.